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We see what we’re looking for

Andrea Toole’s Grandma Bryl always told her that outstanding teachers were born, not made. I think it’s true. Either you have the knack for teaching, or you don’t. Grandma Bryl’s kind of teacher tends to stick around for the long haul, like Toole, who teaches at Blanchard Elementary School.

Perhaps the destined teacher begins with a certain mindset, the idea that, as Toole puts it, you can eat soup from a dented can. Each of us were probably told by our mothers not to buy the dented cans on the shelves. So, we would inspect each can until we found the one undented, and we would leave the imperfections for the next shopper.

The truly ordained teacher loads all the cans in her cart — doesn’t leave a one on the shelf. Perhaps the label is off some and the dents on others would make our mommas shudder. What Toole sees, which is what many of our teachers see, is the contents inside.

Several years ago, a difficult young girl walked into Toole’s classroom with a bad attitude and poor grades. She was warned that the student’s mother had a similar disposition. Both were dented cans.

According to Toole, however, we often see what we’re looking for. If we see nothing but a dented can, we miss the good stuff inside.

So Toole acknowledged the dents in a very transparent conversation with the young girl. “I’ve heard things about you,” Toole said.

The girl smirked and answered, “I figured.”

“I’ve heard you’re assertive,” Toole said, “and I’m looking for someone with that quality to help me in the classroom.”

What was previously seen as a blemish in character, Toole saw as an opportunity to tap into potential. She defined assertive to the youngster and gave her a leadership role within the classroom: lunch counter. Seems small to us, but to the discounted young girl, it was a changing point in both her academic and personal life.

From overlooked to noticed, the little girl began to see herself as responsible and capable. She read over a million words that school year, a feat unimaginable before Toole got to her. The change was contagious, affecting even the girl’s difficult mother, who became one of the room moms.

Grandma was right. Either you’re born believing all children can learn or you aren’t. When teachers innately see the best in a child, great things can happen.

Toole is on to something: “We often see what we’re looking for.” She sees the dented cans of her students and chooses them anyway, despite their imperfections. And that makes all the difference. That makes a young girl read a million words.

Blend Grandma’s thought with Mrs. Toole’s thought and we have the making for powerful change in our community. So, thanks, Grandma Bryl and Andrea Toole.

Next time we come across a dented can of Campbell’s Tomato Soup, let’s buy it, take it home and heat it up. More importantly, though, next time we see someone who isn’t as perfect as we are, let’s step in and address their potential.

Sheryl Green: